The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is turning to Google, Facebook and other social media to vet immigrants from Syria and Iraq seeking refugee status in the U.S.
In a model that will eventually cover every potential refugee and immigrant, even from Central America, the administration is greatly expanding staff and linguistic capabilities to handle the job of clearing the social media records of some 10,000 Syrians this year alone.
But the testimony from the administration before Congress is being mocked and criticized by experts who said that by announcing the new program, the government is basically warning terrorists and criminals eager to enter the U.S. to scrub their social media.
The Center for Immigration Studies revealed the testimony on their web page. They quoted Leon Rodriguez, Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, telling the House Committee on Homeland Security, "What we are doing right now, and these efforts are focused on Syrians [refugees], is that in those cases in which there are flags of – element of concern in a case, we do a social media review, in those cases, to further develop and determine whether there's any information in social media which helps us resolve that case, either derogatory information that would lead, possibly, to a denial, or that would satisfy us that the individual was okay."
He added, "Right now, we are conducting manual vetting. In other words, we're literally just going into Facebook and Google and other sources to identify the social media information. That's very slow going."
Slow because the whole system has to be built from the ground up, and initially with government contractors.
Francis Taylor, under secretary for Intelligence and Analysis at Homeland Security, said at the hearing, "At the beginning, we probably won't have enough capability on board in the government to do this robustly, and that we will have to do some contracting, particularly for linguists. When one's talking about social media, all social media is not in English. So we need language skills and those sorts of things, which are more readily available, initially, in the private sector. But long term, I think we will build a capability that mirrors our department's responsibility to review this type of data and do so with government employees that are trained and able to do it. But my sense is the initial investment will be heavily contractor."
Nayla Rush, a senior researcher at the Center for Immigration Studies, revealed the testimony on her CIS blog, and wrote, "So, all you refugees and immigrants out there, you've been warned. You'd better have a 'clean' official Facebook account under your real name if you want to make it into the United States. But no worries, you have time to get your act together. Though if you're using a pseudonym, you may not need to bother."
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.